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Ohio must never again hold two primaries

Ohio never should have split this year’s primary election into two.

And that opinion is not just hindsight — we shared that very clear feeling at least twice on this page long before the decision ever became official to divide this year’s primary into two elections held May 3 and last week, on Aug. 2.

The decision for Ohio to host a second primary election requiring every precinct to be open for business as usual came after the state redistricting commission was unable to submit new legislative maps that held up to constitutional challenges. After multiple attempts to meet the redistricting guidelines established by voters in a constitutional amendment calling for fair — not gerrymandered — districts, a federal court adopted and put into effect a temporary set of maps.

Those maps had been offered previously by the Republican-led state redistricting commission and subsequently were rejected 4-3 by the Ohio Supreme Court which opined the maps unfairly favored Republicans.

Finally, a federal court in April ordered this set of maps be used, but it was too late for the May 3 election because, by then, ballots already had been printed and early voting had commenced.

So, our elected leaders in Columbus moved forward with splitting the primary election into two. Statewide and county races were decided on May 3, and races involving the new district lines were decided last Tuesday.

As expected, turnout last week was extremely poor.

According to the Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office, out of Ohio’s 7.97 million registered voters, 631,994 voted in the Aug. 2 election — either early or on election day. That equates to a paltry 7.93 percent — the lowest turnout of a statewide primary in at least 60 years.

Locally, it was a little better — but not much. Columbiana County was at 10.32 percent, Mahoning 9.08 percent and Trumbull 11.62.

Most election experts believe the poor turnout stemmed largely from confusion and the lack of candidates in competitive races on many ballots.

Also as predicted, the cost of splitting the primary into two election days was astronomical. The second statewide primary cost about $20 million to $25 million to hold. Using even the lower, more conservative figure of $20 million to fund an election in which 631,994 people voted means taxpayers paid about $31.64 per vote.

Such an enormous waste of taxpayer money was ridiculous and must never, ever happen again. Sadly, the map issue still is not settled, and there’s nothing to guarantee that this primary election split wouldn’t happen again. Unless we get this map issue ironed out, the very real possibility exists that this waste of money absolutely could occur again.

Further, the entire scenario as it played out was patently unfair to the local boards of elections who were forced to handle two elections, hire already hard-to-find poll workers for not one, but two elections and to field repeated questions from voters, including some who even thought the August 2 election was a “do-over” for the May 3 primary.

There is no other way to describe this experiment than as a disaster.

At the end of the day, the right answer always is to keep primary election races and issues together on one ballot in one primary election.

This debacle must never, ever happen again.

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